Zaha Hadid’s prestigious award for building to glory of Azerbaijan dictator criticised

Human rights groups have criticised Azerbaijan’s current and former regimes and suggested that it was unhelpful to promote a building bearing Aliyev’s name

The Design Museum came under fire today after awarding the UK’s most prestigious design award to a building in Azerbaijan bearing the name of a repressive former leader.

The Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, designed by acclaimed architect Dame Zaha Hadid, was awarded the Design Museum Design of the Year for 2014 this evening, with one judge calling it as “pure and sexy as Marilyn’s blown skirt”.

Yet human rights groups have criticised Azerbaijan’s current and former regimes and suggested that it was unhelpful to promote a building bearing Aliyev’s name.

Amnesty International had accused him of human rights abuses, ballot irregularities and intimidating the opposition while in power. The former Soviet secret police general ruled for 30 years, first as its communist leader and then as president.

The building was commissioned by the former leader’s son Ilham, who took over as president following Aliyev’s death in 2003 and remains in power.

Human rights groups said Dame Zaha had a duty to raise issues when working for repressive regimes Human rights groups said Dame Zaha had a duty to raise issues when working for repressive regimes (Getty)

Rory Olcayto, acting editor of Architects’ Journal, said the building “may be a stunning example of contemporary architecture but it does seem odd for the Design Museum to celebrate a building that honours a former KGB dictator".

He added: “It’s a subject the Design Museum director Dejan Sudjic knows a lot about: his book the Edifice Complex explores the power relationships between architects and dictators. Perhaps he is trying to provoke a debate.”

The award, which has been running for seven years, has previously been awarded to the designers of the 2012 Olympic torch, a folding plug and the Government’s overhauled website Gov.uk.

Hugh Williamson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and central Asia division, said Aliyev “was an authoritarian leader and his son is now”.

Read more: Hadid wins Iraqi parliament contract – after coming third

“There are widespread human rights abuses going on now in Azerbaijan and that is the context in which such a prize is given,” he continued. “It’s the context in which an architectural company is working there. We wouldn’t comment on where businesses should work, but they should be aware of human rights issues.”

Rebecca Vincent, who until recently worked with Art for Democracy, an Azerbaijani human rights campaign, said such a prize was unhelpful: “Any international group with an interest in Azerbaijan should be raising these issues stronger and clearer. And the arts are deeply connected with human rights because of the freedom of expression.”

She added that the situation in a regime that had systematically worked to silence its critics “is getting worse not better”, adding: “It would be really helpful if a well-known figure like Dame Zaha Hadid could raise these issues while working in the country.”

Dame Zaha, who is the first woman to win the prize, has faced criticism since first taking on the commission.

Ekow Eshun, a writer and broadcaster who was a member of this year’s jury, responded to the concerns saying: “In the end, we’re asked to judge a design prize on the basis of the work itself and what we see in front of us.

“The view we took was it was a singular piece of architecture and uniquely realised. People can look at the wider context and that is an entirely valid response. Our role was to look at a piece of work.”

Daniel Libeskind, who is working on the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site, said last year that in moral terms architects “have to take responsibility for their work”.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat